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by Forrest Seymour
Welcome to "A Father's Journal," a biweekly column of reflections on what becoming and being a father can feel like and look like in this late twentieth century. Fatherhood is at least as diverse as is our cozy little global village. We reading these words are single fathers and partners in parenthood; we are at home dads and working fathers; we live humbly and extravagantly; we are gay, straight, and all else in between; we're fathers of all ethnic backgrounds and combinations; we are urban, rural and small town fathers; young and old; new fathers and old pros. While this mere scribbler cannot claim to know personally such a wide range of perspectives, this column will seek to weave one man's experience within the rich tapestry of this diverse community.
Just as we watch our children move ahead and then back, then off in some unexpected direction, so too do men and fathers develop, and regress, then shoot off to new places. Life is rarely gentle and never predictable, but we gain through these challenging changes empathy for ourselves as well as others. As a friend, a therapist, reflected recently on the end of a marriage he thought would be his last, "I guess the universe isn't finished with me yet." Is it ever?
A Father's Journal arises out of my need to understand my life and the world, and the unexpected changes in both which I can barely track. Partly it is a dream, to write, to share, to connect. And partly it is a project, to further my career, to spread what seem like healthy ideas, to maybe foment a pinch of social change. My path to this place, like the trail my daughter blazes as she ricochets from one room to the next, is filled with distractions; shiny bobbles worthy of note, far off noises, tempting delights, toys. It may, therefore, be useful, by way of introduction to A Father's Journal, as well as warning and disclaimer, to take a quick glimpse at a few less than random scenes along my own tortured trail, which may provide insight into this author's biases, before turning in future weeks to the more in-the-moment trials at hand.
Years ago, in a different life, I sold real estate. My mentor in our suburban mid-west office was a bearded teddy-bear, the top listing and selling agent most months, an old pot-head. The broker, our boss, for whom I and Teddy-bear and the others worked, was a silver haired Viet Nam vet who lead us in meditation during sales meetings and vacationed up the Amazon, heart of darkness and all that. It was an unusual place to work. I lasted about a year, until my marriage dissolved.
Teddy-bear, much to my surprise, was a faithful Republican. We'd sit around after hours, drinking wine in the lobby with the secretaries, and argue politics, I being liberal by birth. In the midst of these conversations, among many eminently forgettable pronouncements on both our parts, Teddy-bear would remind me that he himself had once been a wild-eyed commie-hippie.
"You see," he'd say, sipping wine and roaming around the furnishings, "I didn't become conservative until I had something to conserve." He was talking about the wife and daughters awaiting him at home. I routinely dismissed this observation as simply a rational for grabbing whatever piece of the pie he could get his round, gentle hands on.
Scene two, different state, different life, no wife. I live in a rented room, I work part-time, I've just met this great Jewish girl, I think I'm happy. What will come to be known as the Gulf War is in the wind, and I sit at a table near the door of the currently trendy coffee shop in the New England town I've adopted. Scores of friends and acquaintances drift in and out as I distribute batches of round stickers to all takers.
"SAY NO TO WAR IN THE GULF," the stickers demand, in yellow and black. In time, we will assemble hundreds on our small town square to protest. One big party.
Somewhere in there I took a left turn. With little material possessions and few deep emotional ties to conserve, I did the other thing.
Scene three, same town, new trendy coffee shop. It is the late nineties, the age of espresso. That nice Jewish girl and I have a daughter, a mortgage, two small businesses, and two double low-fat decaf lattes. We chat briefly with friends who pass through this shop, but savor our privacy too. We decline invitations to join others at their tables. We prefer the couch, where we work to remember who each other are. This task is made difficult as we are changing so fast. So much to do, so much to plan, so much to say, so little time. Is this what Teddy-bear sought to conserve, I wonder? Or is this what he avoided by drinking at work? I sip the warm milky liquid in my cup, and miss the caffeine.
We all struggle to balance our ideals, our needs and wants, our wounds and weapons. What will unfold in A Father's Journal is the story of how becoming and then being a father changes how one man sees himself, and the world, and how that world in turn changes him. It is a story of love, hope, discovery and maybe healing. It is one father's journey.
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